New smart threads offer potential for touch-sensitive robotics


Engineers from Saudi Arabia have developed smart threads capable of detecting the strength and location of pressures exerted on them, opening the door for new robotic developments.

A team from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology have created cotton threads coated with single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNT), which have piezoresistive properties, meaning their electrical resistance depends on the applied pressure.

“Researchers have developed a new breed of smart threads that can be woven into pressure-sensitive electronic skin for robots or medical prosthetics.“

Tests show these threads offer decreased resistance when subjected to stronger mechanical strains, with the amplitude of the resistance change depending on the thickness of the SWCNT coating.

By combining threads in pairs, one with graded thickness and one of uniform thickness, it became possible to determine the position of the loads along the threads, without the need for electrode wirings, heavy data recording and analysis.

The threads have already been used to construct 2D and 3D arrays that have shown the capacity to accurately detect pressures similar to those that people or machines might be exposed to.

Gilles Lubineau from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology's division of physical science and engineering, said: "We hope that electronic skins made from our smart threads could benefit any robot or medical prosthetic in which pressure sensing is important, such as artificial hands."

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